IndyCar – Let the Month of May begin!

The Month of May isn’t quite what it used to be, but that’s not to say that all the changes have been bad. One of the great additions to the May traditions is the opening of the month with a race on the infield road course. Ok, yes, it’s technically a roval, and I know how some of you feel about rovals. I would argue that this is also a natural terrain road course. If you’ve ever been to central Indiana, you know it’s flat as a pancake. Any hills you might see in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were imported. The infield course also has the advantage of not having to deal with the 20+ degrees of banking that many other oval courses have. The front stretch is flat, making the transition into Turn 1 seamless.

The practice sessions for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis will begin this Thursday with qualification on Friday and the race on Saturday. (See below for the weekend schedule) It will be interesting to see if Honda has made any headway on their road course package. At the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, only two Honda-powered machines finished in the top 10, Takuma Sato’s No. 14 in P5 and James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 in P8. In the subsequent race, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, Graham Rahal in his No. 15 Honda-powered machine was closing in on the Chevy-powered No. 22 of Simon Pagenaud, but an ill-conceived passing attempt destroyed Rahal’s front wing, crippling his car, although he would hang on to finish on the podium in P2. The only other Honda in the top ten was again driven by James Hinchcliffe who finished in P6. It’s been obvious all season long that the Honda engine and aero package are significantly underperforming compared to their Chevrolet counterparts.

After placing second in the first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix and winning the most recent two races at Long Beach and Barber, Simon Pagenaud finds himself holding a very comfortable 48-point lead over his closest rival, Scott Dixon. Given how strong he’s been on the road courses so far, I don’t see how one can not view Simon as the favorite going into the weekend.

“We come into May with a lot of momentum and that’s a great position to be in. I’m very excited to get behind the wheel of the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. They are a great partner and this is our first race with them, so that adds even more to this special month in Indy car racing. The road course at Indy really suits my driving style. In fact, this track probably suits my style the best. It’s a track that I’ve won at in the past having won the inaugural Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2014. As a team, our confidence level is very high, but we’re going to continue to work hard and not let the early season success spoil us.” — Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet

His most significant competition this weekend will likely come from his Team Penske teammates. Will Power won from pole at last year’s event, although he’s down in the championship standings thanks to his failure to start at St. Petersburg. He does have the highest average finishing position, 4.67, of any of his non-French teammates.

Will Power celebrates his victory in the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- Photo by: Joe Skibinski
Will Power celebrates his victory in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“If we can duplicate the results of last year’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, then I’ll be just fine. Seriously, though, the No. 12 Verizon Chevy team was fantastic in the grand prix race last year, and we just want to continue on from that point. The course is so smooth and provides a lot of vision. I like that quite a bit and it lets us get everything out of the cars. The start to the season has been interesting and we’ve logged some good finishes, but we plan to move it up a notch or two in May. So often it’s about momentum and we plan to start some in the grand prix.” — Will Power, No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, 2015 Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner

The hopes for Honda lie within the hands of either Graham Rahal or Takuma Sato. The finishing position distribution function for the two drivers is a bit bimodal. They are either in or near the top five, or they are near the back of the grid. Fortunately for Honda, the fluctuations for the two drivers are out of phase so as Takuma does well, Graham has a problem. At the most recent race at Barber Motorsports Park, Graham Rahal had the great result, finishing second.

“I can’t believe it’s May already. The very exciting month has arrived. I personally have a special memory of the Indy road course (scored his first F1 podium when he finished third in 2004 United States Grand Prix at IMS) so it’s a great feeling to be back behind the wheel there. We had a strong race last year so we should have a good baseline for this year. We have improved the road course performance so I’m very much looking forward to a great weekend.” — Takuma Sato, No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda

This means that it’s Takuma’s turn to shine, perhaps? Maybe. Remember that Graham finished on the podium at last year’s Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Graham Rahal sits in his No. 15 PennGrade Honda on pit lane during practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park -- Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher
Graham Rahal sits in his No. 15 PennGrade Honda on pit lane during practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park — Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher

“The race last year was interesting. We struggled in qualifying, but due to the first corner mess, I was able to get into sixth place on the start. After that it was work as usual and trying to get by everyone with strategy and some passes. Luckily we were able to do both and it worked out great (second-place finish). The start to last season and this season are seemingly identical. I would have loved better results this year, and frankly feel the team deserves them, but due to my mistakes in Long Beach and bad luck in St. Pete we have found ourselves in a similar position. I think this weekend will be key for a good kickoff to our month of May.” (About road and street courses in 2015:) “We have been very solid and I think we are only scratching the surface. We will continue to work hard and see what we can gain. The track is similar to Barber which is why I expect to be good. The main difference is there are no elevation changes and a little bit faster speeds.” (About his expectations for the ALGPI:) “To run up front and be very competitive, that’s what I expect everywhere now. I love being here and love racing in Indy. I can’t wait.” — Graham Rahal, No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda

The exciting thing about the Month of May now is that there’s more to it than just the IndyCar Series. Alongside the top-tier machines will be the entire Mazda Road to Indy program. The USF2000, Pro Mazda, and Indy Lights drivers will also be competing this weekend on the infield road course. Following that, the USF2000 and Pro Mazda series will race on the Saturday afternoon before the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at the 5/8-mile Lucas Oil Raceway Park and the Indy Lights series will run the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carburetion Day. You can watch all of the Mazda Road to Indy action live online at http://roadtoindy.tv/.

Happy Month of May, everyone!

Day-By-Day at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis

THURSDAY, May 12 – Practice Day

  • 8 a.m. Gates Open
  • 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.: Ticket Office Opens
  • 8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.: IMS Midway Open
  • 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.: Ivy Tech Garage Tours
  • 9:30 – 10 a.m.: USF2000 Practice
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:45 p.m.: Pro Mazda Practice
  • 11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.: Verizon IndyCar Series Practice
  • 12:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.: Indy Lights Practice
  • 1:30 – 2 p.m.: USF2000 Practice
  • 2:15 – 2:45 p.m.: Pro Mazda Practice
  • 3 – 4:15 p.m.: Verizon IndyCar Series Practice
  • 4:30 – 5:15 p.m.: Indy Lights Practice
  • 6 p.m. – Gates Close

FRIDAY, May 13 – Qualifications Day

  • 8 a.m.: Gates Open
  • 8 a.m.: – 6 p.m.: Ticket Office Open
  • 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.: IMS Midway Open
  • 9:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.: USF2000 Qualifying
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:45 p.m.: Pro Mazda Qualifying
  • 11 a.m. – 11:45 p.m.: Verizon IndyCar Series Practice
  • Noon – 12:45 p.m.: Indy Lights Qualifying
  • 1 – 1:40 p.m.: USF2000 Race #1
  • 1:55 – 2:45 p.m.: Pro Mazda Race #1
  • 3 – 4:15 p.m.: Verizon IndyCar Series Qualifying
  • 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.: Indy Lights Race #1
  • 6 p.m.: Gates Close

Saturday, May 14 – Third Annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis

  • 8 a.m.: Gates Open
  • 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Ticket Office Open
  • 8 a.m. – 3:50 p.m.: IMS Midway Open
  • 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Ivy Tech Garage Tours
  • 9:45 – 10:05 a.m.: Indy Lights Warm Up
  • 10:20 – 11:10 a.m.: Pro Mazda Race #2
  • 11:30 a.m. – Noon: Verizon IndyCar Series Warm Up
  • 12:15 – 12:55 p.m.: USF2000 Race #2
  • 1:25 – 2:25 p.m.: Indy Lights Race #2
  • 3 – 3:30 p.m.: Bronze Badge Holder Grid Walk
  • 3 – 3:15 p.m.: Driver Introductions
  • 3:43 p.m.: “Drivers Start Your Engines”
  • 3:50 p.m.: Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – 82 Laps
  • 6 – 7 p.m.: Post Race Track Invasion
  • 7 p.m.: – Gates Close

(All times are EDT)